In every administration’s desire to generate additional revenues, the idea of selling land occupied by units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines always arises. Last week, the Bases Conversion and Development Authority again announced plans to “maximize the use” of military camps across the country by transforming those in the provinces into productive agricultural zones to generate jobs and reducing Camp Aguinaldo to a smaller central command post.
Created on March 13, 1992, the BCDA is mandated by law to transform former US military bases and sprawling AFP camps into alternative productive civilian use. BCDA president Arnel Casanova was quoted as saying that his organization and the AFP had agreed to tap the economic potentials of the idle military camps. The subjects of the latest pronouncement are Camp Aguinaldo (176 hectares in Quezon City), Fort Magsaysay (47.46 hectares in Nueva Ecija), Camp Peralta (33.22 hectares in Capiz), Camp O’Donnell (1,925 hectares in Tarlac), Camp Kibaritan (42,000 hectares in Bukidnon), and the Naval Station San Miguel (960.52 hectares in Zambales).
There will be a master plan, in which the AFP and the Department of National Defense will have a major role in deciding whether to sell, lease, develop, or modernize the camps. The bidding for the conduct of the master plan is expected in the next six months.
The plan to privatize a portion of Camp Aguinaldo is a result of suggestions by defense and military officials in 2011 for the government to build a Pentagon-like facility that will house the DND, the headquarters of the AFP, and its three major services—the Army, Air Force and Navy, which are headquartered respectively in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City; Villamor Air Base in Pasay City; and the Naval Station Jose Andrada on Roxas Boulevard in Manila.
Also in 2011, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said the Aquino administration was planning to privatize the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame in Quezon City as part of efforts to generate funds to pump-prime the economy and modernize the military and the police. Back then, another option considered was to move the military headquarters to a new home in Clark Field in Pampanga or Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.
The desire to raise funds using AFP assets was inspired by the successful privatization in 1992 of the 240-hectare Fort Bonifacio and, years later, of 25 hectares of Villamor Air Base. Those 25 hectares are now known as Newport City, an urban integrated tourism resort complex featuring a strong information-technology component and airport-related businesses developed by Megaworld Corp. A consortium led by Metro Pacific Corp. had won the Fort Bonifacio bidding, which was dubbed the “deal of the century” given the acquisition price of P30.4 billion, or P333,283.88 per square meter. However, Metro Pacific had to sell its interest in the property after the 1997 Asian financial crisis. It sold its stake in Fort Bonifacio Development Corp., the joint venture created to implement the master plan for the former military facility, to the consortium of Ayala Land Inc. and Evergreen Holdings Inc. of the Campos group in 2005.
Teenagers who hang out at BGC (as Bonifacio Global City is now commonly known) may not have the slightest idea that it is a former military base complete with an 18-hole championship golf course. All they see is a modern city with the attendant problems of progress: traffic and congestion. It is in the light of these “modern” problems that we think the government should keep Camp Aguinaldo as it is. The camp is one of the few remaining open spaces in Metro Manila that environmentalists describe as the lungs of the polluted metropolis. The same attitude should likewise be taken vis-à-vis other prime pieces of real estate like that occupied by the Veterans Memorial Medical Center, also in Quezon City.
We can just imagine the horrendous traffic and congestion if these pieces of land are converted into mixed-use complexes with condominium buildings, shopping malls and restaurants. If left with no choice but to privatize these parcels of real estate, the government can set as a requirement in the bidding rules that at least half of the property be kept as open space. A limit on the height of buildings to be constructed in the area can also be made part of the bidding rules. After all, Metro Manila is congested enough.